Thursday, Apr 26, 2018
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Consider Antonio's little girls before debating immigration

I LOOKED over the intake notes that were given to me: Male, Mexican national, EWI, previous deport, picked up by ICE on Maui. No criminal history.

At this point, I sigh. Little chance of fighting this one. EWI means entered illegally, or "without inspection," or in lay terms he crossed over the Mexico/U.S. border undetected by U.S. law enforcement.

Previous deportation means he's subject to what's called "reinstatement of removal," meaning that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) can deport him back to Mexico without the opportunity to present any case before the immigration judge.

I read further on in the notes: Married, USC, 2 USC kids. At this point, my heart breaks a little. Another family likely shattered.

His name is Antonio, and I dread meeting with him at the Federal Detention Center, but I go anyway.

He deserves to have someone explain his options, or lack of options. He deserves to know that he should not waste energy fighting his deportation and separation from his family because the law gives him no grounds to fight.

I kiss my own two young children good night and head off to see him.

Arriving at the FDC by the airport I chat with the officers, joking how I've got nothing better to do on a Friday night but hang out at the FDC.

After a short wait in the attorney meeting rooms, Antonio is brought down. I introduce myself and start asking him some questions, and I find myself liking him immediately.

We were both born in the same year, 1968, and our kids are about the same ages - his Jade just turned 4, and Raquel is 3. His English is excellent, and he tells me that both he and his wife work in food service, he at restaurants and she at a five-star hotel. They have no other family on Maui, and they tag-team child care with each other.

"How'd you get picked up?" I ask, and he tells me he was arriving home with his girls in the car and pulled into the parking lot at their Lahaina apartment complex; ICE agents were also in the lot. He parked and took his girls out of their car seats and was approached by agents who asked him to show ID.

That was the beginning of the end. As he was taken away, he told me that one agent commented how beautiful his small girls were.

At that point in our meeting, Antonio starts crying. He wipes his tears and apologizes, telling me that he has tried to remain strong and this is the first he's cried.

Tears well up in my eyes, too. I know what his future holds, and that his life and the life of his wife and daughters will never be the same. I tell him it's OK to cry.

Then I explain the ugly reality of current immigration law as it applies to him and his family. He cries some more. I tell him I will call his wife Pam after our meeting - she cannot call him in detention and he cannot make calls out. They are totally cut off from each other, save for a message from me.

"Tell her I love her," he says, "and to be strong."

We walk into the waiting room where one guard will take him to his cell and I will be escorted out to the front.

I shake his hand, and he asks me for a hug. "I really need one," he says. I embrace him, wishing I could substitute his wife and daughters in my place.

Walking out, I share with the officer that I'm a bit depressed. He's kind, and says he understands.

"But the guy is married to a U.S. citizen, right? And he's got kids. Doesn't that help him?"

Unfortunately, I explain, it does not. As we approach the door, he tells me, "Go home and hug your kids."

I so appreciate his sweetness at a time when the world feels pretty dark. I tell him that I will.

Arriving home, I look in on my sleeping children and I cry some more. I then pull myself together to call Pam, and I relay the messages and tell her that Antonio will soon be deported back to Mexico. She breaks down at that point, then recovers enough to thank me for seeing him and calling her.

I go to sleep next to my daughter and have dreams of Antonio and his girls.

In all the talk of immigration reform, the story of Antonio and his family needs to be told.

These are the stories behind a broken system, these are the human costs of a world where global inequality forces people to take huge risks with their lives to make something better for their futures.

They leave their homelands and everything familiar to them.

Sometimes these people meet and fall in love with others after settling in; sometimes children are born, and sometimes their dreams and families are literally shattered.

There are some who say, well, he broke the law, he should pay, too bad.

I have a hard time imagining them feeling the same way after seeing the grief in Antonio's eyes or the confusion in his daughters' faces when mama tries to explain that daddy is never coming home.

Clare Hanusz is an immigration attorney in private practice in Honolulu, and a Toledo native.

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